Monday, January 18, 2010

Life in the Big City

By now, most of you have probably heard/read about the fighting in Kabul this morning. If not, a decent BBC summary is here.

Short version is that around 0930, approximately twenty Taliban stormed several buildings in downtown Kabul near the Ministries of Finance and Justice. At least one of the buildings was a popular shopping center. The apparent intent was to disrupt the swearing in ceremony for the new members of Karzai's cabinet, which was taking place at the Presidential Palace down the street.

So I got to start the day standing on my balcony with a cup of coffee, being serenaded by the sound of not-so-distant automatic weapons fire and the occasional explosion of a rocket. This time, they really came to play for keeps. Kalashnikovs, PK machineguns, RPGs, they brought the works with them today. And at least one car bomb, perhaps two. More significantly, some of my guys who were in the area report that at least some of the attackers were wearing body armor. That is highly unusual for the Taliban. Given their tactics and choice of targets, they were quite obviously suicide attackers and had no intention of living out the day.

Put those two things together in your head for a minute: suicide attackers WITH body armor. That's not quite the contradiction it seems at first glance. In fact, it makes perfect sense if you think about it. These guys have two goals: 1) kill as many of their enemies as they can, and 2) keep fighting long enough to seriously disrupt life in the capital. As it turns out, they did pretty well on both counts, partly because their body armor allowed them to make the fight last longer than it should have.

After storming a couple of buildings (and making an attempt to gate-crash the ill-fated Serena Hotel)*, the Taliban reportedly set up on the roofs of some of the buildings in the area, with a commanding view of several major streets. It took several hours of heavy fighting for the ANP commandos to regain control. As of right now, they think that maybe one or two are still on the loose somewhere in the area. Guess I'm not going out to the bar tonight.

*If any of you ever come to Kabul, DON'T stay at the Serena. Don't get me wrong. Lovely place, top-notch service and an enclosed garden that almost makes one forget that you're in Kabul. However, the place is magnet for bad guys.

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